Why the Australian manufacturing industry needs the next generation of robots

 

Amid the gloom about the prospects for manufacturing in Australia — and the difficulties facing an economy dominated by small businesses (nearly 90 percent of Australian manufacturing capacity) — there is some cause for optimism. A new generation of lightweight, assistive robots looks to provide small to medium enterprises (SMEs) with new options to improve their competitiveness and meet the challenges of high costs and a shortage of skilled workers.

The news is good for workers, too. Robotic “smart tools” offer a means of removing danger and monotony from the work environment and, in striking contrast to conventional beliefs, provide a way to retain the existing workforce for longer.

Studies have shown that robots can boost productivity, but this productivity dividend is dependent on a human workforce able to set them up, maintain them, and make creative decisions about how best to complete work tasks. In a US case study of Marlin Steel, introduction of robots not only boosted quality of company product, but increased employee remuneration.

The manufacture of robots is a growing source of employment. A 2011 report commissioned by the International Federation of Robotics found that 150,000 people worldwide are already employed in the engineering and assembly of robots.

This report also identifies use of robotics in SMEs as essential to win back manufacturing from countries with low labour costs. In this case, the introduction of robots is capable of maintaining the viability of manufacturing in developed countries – and preserving manufacturing jobs.

Assistive robotics offer a high-productivity solution that could also help Australian manufacturing integrate into regional value chains, as recommended in the recent Asian Century white paper.

Lightweight robots can be integrated into the Australian workplace as assistants to workers in three ways.

The first is as “intelligent tools”, which work together with human workers. Mobile assistants, manipulators, “smart” picking, lifting and handling systems, and robotic welders, gluers and assemblers enable automation of short-run production processes, and provide a flexible solution to increase efficiency of production.

Secondly, robots can also be used as tools to augment the abilities of human workers in manufacturing processes. Powered exoskeletons enable workers, regardless of age or gender, to lift and manipulate heavy loads safely. Wearable machine vision systems can alert workers to workplace hazards in real-time, including hazards which can’t be detected visually, such as radiation and high temperatures. Mobile assistive robotic trainers and tele-immersive training systems enable experienced staff to remotely mentor workers who are new to a work environment.

The third way is as “smart” field tools, which enable human workers to manufacture items under hazardous or challenging conditions. Tele-operated mobile tools and vehicles are already in use in the mining industry, enabling work to be supervised remotely in an environment that is safe and comfortable for workers. Rigs which facilitate micro-manipulation and micro-assembly enable workers to conduct micro-assembly of complex items without strain to eyesight. Virtual and augmented reality systems allow workers to manipulate tools while remote from the factory floor, therefore reducing risks of work-related injury such as repetitive strain and injuries from use of tools.

So why is robotics changing? Conventional industrial robots — such as those used in automotive manufacturing — are heavy, programmed for one task, fixed in place on the factory floor, and expensive to buy, install, program and maintain. They are also potentially hazardous to humans, so workers are usually excluded from the robot workspace. But the next generation of lightweight robots is different.

A number of technological advances have made this new generation of lightweight robots possible.

First, the next generation of robots can “see” the workplace using advanced vision systems (including stereo and infrared cameras and multi-modal imaging), high precision sensors and perception algorithms.

Secondly, the new generation of robots is mobile. They know where they are and can navigate within the workplace thanks to navigation, localisation and mapping technologies – such as Wi-Fi localisation, beacon-based navigation, simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM), and accurate 2D or 3D modelling.

Importantly, human workers are now able to easily communicate with robots via voice and visual gesture recognition. Sophisticated human-robot interactive interfaces allow shared autonomy and human supervisory control. Additionally, augmented and virtual reality robotic systems allow workers to work remotely in hazardous or physically demanding working environments and to tele-operate and tele-supervise remote equipment. Emerging global high-speed wireless communication systems such as the NBN provide the required infrastructure for these technologies.

Manipulation technologies, including force-amplifying exoskeletons (frameworks worn by workers to provide mobility and lifting assistance), dexterous manipulation (grasping and moving complex objects using robotic “fingers” or claws), and multi-robot cooperation make for a working environment that is safer for the workforce and enable any worker – regardless of sex or age – to effectively perform physically onerous or dangerous tasks in complete safety. Robotic tools similar to existing micro-surgery rigs enable workers to perform miniature component manufacturing and assembly tasks with precision and dexterity – without risk to their health.

Finally, the new generation of robots would not be possible without smart fabrication. Miniaturisation and smart and lightweight materials make for small, light, smart robots. These robots can move rapidly around a workplace, respond to commands to fetch tools, rapidly shift stores of materials and finished product, and complement human activities.

Alberto Elfes does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Green wine growth in McLaren Vale

A growing demand from consumers for environmentally sustainable wines has led one entire region to introduce a sustainable winegrowing program, writes Christine Salins.

McLaren Vale, in South Australia, launched a program in April last year enabling growers to be monitored on a range of factors, including water and fertiliser use and soil quality.

The program, McLaren Vale Sustainable Winegrowing Australia, has had an impressive uptake with around 90 growers signing up, representing more than a third of the region’s harvest.

The results have exceeded expectations according to the chairman of the McLaren Vale Grape, Wine & Tourism Association, Peter Hayes, who expects other regions will likely follow suit.

Growers behind the initiative to brand McLaren Vale as an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible region have noted a growing consumer demand for sustainable wines, an observation supported by the former chief executive of the Winemakers' Federation of Australia, Steven Strachan.

Before his departure from the role in the middle of last year, Strachan was reported as saying that while it would take time to assess the impact of the McLaren Vale initiative, he had little doubt that it would be a success because the “marketplace is really starting to indicate they want these initiatives in place."

Aimed at helping growers improve vineyard sustainability, the McLaren Vale program uses a combination of data reporting and self-assessment through a workbook of viticultural practices and third-party audits. The content is written by local growers and peer-reviewed by experts nationwide.

Growers self-assess their vineyard operation in areas such as soil health, nutrition and fertiliser management, pest and disease management, biodiversity management, water management and waste management.

They can then ascertain how well they are performing, both in terms of best practice as well as against their peer group.

With an oversupply of grapes pushing prices down in recent years, winemakers have had to contend with tight profit margins. Understandably there are fears that any push for environmentally-sustainable wine will add to production costs.

But Hayes thinks the move will ultimately safeguard the future of McLaren Vale.

"There's no doubt costs, but the benefits very much are the industry retains its credible role in society … it is seen as a leader in considerate agricultural production," he said.

“We expect other regions will follow our lead and adopt the program, tailoring it to their region.”

Hayes said the program had a triple bottom line approach relating to economic, social and environmental considerations and was “very much an improvement-driven program” rather than a report-driven one.

It was independent of farming systems so conventional, organic and biodynamic grapegrowers alike could benefit from being involved.

In the first assessment of the program, in October, 23 percent of respondents identified as using certified or uncertified organic/biodynamic farming systems.

A further 51 percent identified their farming system as “low-input conventional with IPM (integrated pest management) principles”.

“Along with specific measures of vineyard practice and environmental performance, MVSWGA has generated very useful and powerful data to produce an overview of viticulture in the region,” Hayes said.

“This data, over time, will be extremely useful for us in terms of understanding the region and our members, uncovering marketable trends, and as a tool when attempting to influence policy that affects the region.

“A conscious decision was made to ensure that the system offers the opportunity to improve business performance in addition to encouraging – and offering a pathway to – environmental best practice.”

Angove Family Winemakers, which opened a cellar door in McLaren Vale in late 2011, acknowledges both sustainability and market opportunity as its reasons for converting its vineyards to organic.

Its historic Warboys Vineyard in McLaren Vale is certified organic and biodynamic while about a quarter, or 40 hectares, of its Nanya vineyard in Renmark is organic.

Angove’s global brand manager, Richard Angove, said the program “underpins with real measures the sustainability of growing grapes in McLaren Vale”.

“The region’s aim is to be known as the most sustainable wine growing region in the world and with the measures that the Sustainable Winegrowing program provides, the hope is that this provides a factual basis to support the claim,” he said.

“The engagement of the community with the program has been fantastic and brought the community together. As a vineyard owner in McLaren Vale it was natural for us to get involved in the program from the outset.”

Angove appreciates the fact that the program is being continually improved and that it fosters a “philosophy that you can always do things better”.

“We score quite highly in the program, however there is always room to improve,” he said.

One of the country’s oldest family-owned winemakers, the company is in the process of converting another 100 acres of its Nanya vineyard to organic.

Angove cites a number of reasons for going organic – sustainability and concern for the environment, healthier soils and ultimately better wines.

Organically grown vines have healthier root systems and stronger immune systems than conventionally farmed vines, and they tend to recover from stress better and perform better during tough growing seasons.

“We have been growing grapes organically for over 10 years and have seen the benefits that these practices have to vine balance and health.”

The company believes it is the responsibility of each generation to ensure the sustainability and quality of the vineyards for the next generation.

“I always think we are so lucky to have vines that were planted over 70 years ago to harvest and make wine from and that the only way someone in another 70 years can do this will be for us to look after the soil and environment and pass on the knowledge of how to do it,” Angove said.

"Our long-term aim is to chip away and go 100 percent organic.”


 

Food brands and celebrity endorsements: marketing magic?

With January seeing four celebrities spruiking four different food products in as many weeks, these new marketing campaigns signal the start of a competitive new year in 2013. Andrew Duffy reports.

From junk food to macadamias and table grapes, Aussie food brands have started 2013 with a number of prominent celebrity endorsements.

One of the first stars to join the trend was model and TV presenter Rachael Finch, who was named the new ambassador for Australian Summer Stone Fruit in early January.

Finch, a former Miss Universe Australia and Celebrity MasterChef runner up, will head up the new campaign which aims to encourage Australians to eat fresh local stone fruit.

Along with a collection of exercise tips, workout videos, and healthy eating suggestions, Finch's campaign aims to coax people into starting the new year with a healthy eating plan.

It also aims to support local fruit growers, who produce over 100,000 tonnes of nectarines, plums, apricots, and peaches a year.

“Food has always been a big part of my life,” Finch said in launching the campaign.

“Some of my family operates fruit and vegetable farms in North Queensland so supporting our local farmers is really important to me.”

If it works Finch's campaign will be a well-needed boost for the stone fruit industry, which has suffered from volatility and declining growth in recent years.

According to market research from IBIS World, Australia's stone fruit industry has posted -0.2 per cent growth over the last five years, with growers hit by extreme weather and uncertain economic conditions.

“This, combined with rising farm input prices and the growing market power of major retailers, has eroded the profitability of primary producers and industry revenue,” researchers said.

But Finch isn't the only one helping boost a struggling industry with a healthy new campaign.
January also saw swimming champion Libby Trinckett appointed as the face of a new advertising drive by Australian Table Grapes.

Riding off the back of Trickett's public profile, the industry collective is trying to boost demand by encouraging consumers to partake in a seven day eating plan.

The diet encourages people to view table grapes as a healthy alternative to other snacks, and incorporates the fruit into a range of different meals.

Along with the new campaign Australian Table Grapes Association CEO Jeff Scott has been talking up this year's harvest, claiming growers are expecting takings 10-15 percent larger than last year's crop.

Fellow swimming star Eamon Sullivan has also jumped on the bandwagon, joining Australian Macadamias for a food campaign targeting Australia day.

In launching the campaign Australian Macadamias pointed to research claiming only half of people aged 18-64 knew macadamias were a native fruit.

Sullivan said the advertising drive was the perfect opportunity for locals to brush up on their knowledge of the nut, which accounts for around $130 million of exports.

But the celebrity endorsements haven't all been about healthy eating and fresh produce.

Along with the grape, fruit, and macadamia campaigns launched in January, tennis star Maria Sharapova released her “entirely inappropriate” boutique lolly line Sugarpova.

The launch represented a sharp break in the way sports stars are usually marketed to the public, with Sharapova spruiking the new line to young girls who “crave” sugary products.

“My earliest memory of candy is being a little girl back in Russia and asking my parents for a lollipop after a good practice on the tennis court,” Sharapova says in the product's promotional material.

“It was that little treat that I looked forward to.”

The lollies, which contain a whopping 21 grams of sugar per serving, raised eyebrows among health experts, with the marketing drive in stark contrast to the attitudes of most Aussie athletes.

In a paper published last year researchers at the University of Sydney claimed most elite athletes were opposed to the idea of using their celebrity to endorse junk food, and supported using their profile to promote healthier lifestyles.

“Most respondents supported a role for athletes in promoting physical activity and obesity prevention, and disagreed that athletes should promote unhealthy foods and alcohol,” the study said.

Nevertheless Sharapova's brand has already taken hold in the US and UK, and is unlikely to face the same challenges that threaten the viability of local fruit growers.

With January seeing four major advertising drives launched in as many weeks these campaigns signal the start of a competitive new year in 2013.

But which brands come out on top, and by how far, remains to be seen.

Image: www.news.com.au

 

Food mag awards in focus: Snack Foods and Ready Meals

The Food Magazine awards will return in 2013 and with entries closing on 24 April, now's your chance to have your product recognised by industry peers!

In this preview of the annual awards, we're looking at two categories: Snack Foods and Ready Meals.

The entry process for these categories is simple; all you need to do is submit details of your company and the product (name, website, address etc) as well as information on how the product is processed, its significance in the market, any details on export opportunities and what measures were taken to ensure food safety.

Images also need to be provided upon submission.

Criteria for these categories are:

Ready Meals
Meals that are ready to go, and do not require any additional ingredients. Ready meals include all the elements of a meal and require one or less steps for preparation. Products that can be entered into this category include microwavable dinners, pies and lasagnas.

Snack Foods
Snack Foods are foods which do not constitute an entire meal, and are eaten between main meals. They can be sweet or savoury but do not include many ingredients. Products that can be entered into this category include potato chips, cookies, nuts and dried fruits.

In last year's Food Magazine awards, the Snack Foods crown went to Morlife for its Dark Chocolate Coated Roasted Coffee Beans.

About the winner
Morlife aims to be a leader in the rapidly changing and developing industry of functional foods which are foods that provide a health benefit beyond ‘normal nutrition’.

“Functional foods must enhance health and well-being such as assisting in weight-loss, reduction of risk of disease, enhanced performance, physical athletic performance or memory/cognitive functions or help manage a chronic condition such as heart disease and diabetes,” Morlife explained.

Morlife is tapping into a broad market of people who are increasingly aware of nutrition and who seek to gain not only a great tasting product but one that offers a benefit in some way.

Morlife’s new dark chocolate coated roast coffee beans product aims to stand apart from other foods in the snack food market due to their high antioxidant levels. They are also free from gluten, preservatives, artificial sweeteners and colours.

The packaging has also been a key aspect of attracting customers to the product with foil pouches that have a large surface area on the front to take up supermarket shelf space as well as images and information which reflect the health benefits.

Morlife has engaged in an extensive marketing campaign in order to increase export opportunities and have launched a website that is solely for the purpose on focussing on export trade … So far this targeted plan has elicited interest from countries in the Middle East and South East Asia with China ordering 49,600 pieces, which has a potential to create an extra $1 million per annum.
 

The 2012 Ready Meals award went to Creative Foods Solutions for its Emily's Kitchen Range, which features high quality meals produced by experienced chefs.

About the winner
Emily's Kitchen Range flavours include twice-cooked pork with beetroot relish, parsnip mash and cracked pepper jus; Portuguese chicken with white bean ragout; and saffron rice and Atlantic salmon with steamed jasmine rice & dill cream sauce.

The meals were launched nationwide in March 2012 and are currently in over 750 Woolworths stores.

The range is produced by hand, using meats supplied by Andrews Meats Industries and fresh vegetables, some of which are grown by the company.  The packaging used allows the consumer to heat the meal to restaurant quality within a few minutes.

Peter Cox from Andrews Meats who worked with Creative Food Solutions said that producing a quality product requires not only the best tasting ingredients but it also needs to meet safety standards.

“A lot of development has gone into the actual process as far as keeping the quality of the food at the level that we expect it to be at and also maintaining a food safe product.”

Although the meals all have a shelf life of 28 days they are made without the use of preservatives which is done by using a tray sealing machine which is new to Australia and enables the long shelf life.

When asked what the biggest achievement of the range is, Ian Hill of Andrews Meats said that it is the ease and satisfaction in the product that the customer experiences.

“I’d probably say producing a meal that anyone in the street can go and buy- microwave in three and a half minutes and hopefully get a ready restaurant type meal for minimal work, maximum flavour at a reasonable price.”

2013 – is this your year?
This year's awards will be presented at Sydney's Luna Park on 26 July, and will be a great opportunity for all finalists to not only have their product(s) on display, but also network with other industry members. Finalists will also receive coverage in Food magazine and on its website, including its twice weekly e-newsletters.

For information and entry details, click here.

The 2013 Food Magazine Awards are proudly brought to you by Platinum sponsor Heat and Control. Other sponsors include Flavour Makers, Janbak, HACCP Australia, Kerry Ingredients, Newly Weds Foods, Tronics, APPMA, Earlee Products and Kurz.

 

Study supports calls for soft drink health warning

 

Soft drink health warnings should include advice on the risk of tooth decay, say researchers from the University of Adelaide, after another large study connected sugary drink consumption and tooth decay.

In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health this month, researchers from the Australian Centre for Population Oral Health at the University of Adelaide looked at the consumption of sweet drinks and fluoridated water by more than 16,800 Australian children.

They found children who consumed three or more sweet drinks per day had 46% more decayed, missing and filled baby teeth.

More than half of children aged 5-16 years were found to have consumed at least one sugared drink per day, and 13% consumed three or more.

Boys consume more sweet drinks than girls, according to the study.

“There is growing scrutiny on sweet drinks, especially soft drinks, because of a range of detrimental health effects on adults and children,” said Dr Jason Armfield from the University of Adelaide’s School of Dentistry.

“If health authorities decide that warnings are needed for sweet drinks, the risk to dental health should be included. This action, in addition to increasing the access to fluoridated eater, would benefit children’s teeth greatly,” Dr Armfield said.

The study found children from the lowest income families consumed almost 60% more sugared drinks, an issue that only compounded the problem said Professor Mike Morgan, program leader of the Oral Health CRC at University of Melbourne.

“Unfortunately those with high risk to dental disease – including those who consume cheap decay causing diets – tend also to be those less able to access appropriate oral health care.”

Professor Morgan said he supported the call for warnings on such food and beverages, adding that legislative means for societal harm reduction were an important component of effective public health approaches.

“This is particularly evident with the introduction of plain packing of cigarettes,” Professor Morgan said.

“Dental disease is expensive to treat in Australia and causes considerable pain and suffering. The more we can do to reduce both the impact of the diseases and the inequities in health the better.”

The call for health warnings comes as a group of health organisations in the UK are calling for a tax on sweetened drinks of up to 20 pence per litre.

More than 60 organisations, including the National Heart Forum and the Royal Society for Public Health, support the tax, and are calling for the money raised from it to be spent on programmes to improve childrens' health and wellbeing.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Food mag awards in focus: Meat and Smallgoods

The Food Magazine awards will return in 2013 and with entries closing on 24 April, now's your chance to have your product recognised by industry peers!

In this preview of the annual awards, we're looking at another category: Meat and Smallgoods.

This category incorporates all fresh meats and deli meat products, with products eligible for entry including mince, wings, steaks and poultry.

The entry process for the Meat and Smallgoods category is simple; all you need to do is submit details of your company and the product (name, website, address etc) as well as information on how the product is processed, its significance in the market, any details on export opportunities and what measures were taken to ensure food safety.

Images also need to be provided upon submission.

In last year's Food Magazine awards, the Meat and Smallgoods award was presented to Lenard's for its Breast Pastelle.

About the winner
Recently Lenard's chose to re-think its formula and address consumer’s growing kitchen savviness and the public’s obsession with all things gourmet-food related by creating a high-end product with a more complex and modern approach to flavours. 

“I guess we threw out what we’ve been doing for the last 25 years and really went after that gourmet at home market and that was based on some research that we’d done and it’s really paid off as a great new addition to the lenard’s range,” Aaron Lewis, brand manager at Lenard’s, told Food Magazine.

“We’re still about every day and every day products and meals but this has been really well received which is fantastic,” he said.

The concept for the Breast Pastellé was in part born of a Lenard’s marketing research project undertaken in conjunction with Pacific Magazines, the What’s for dinner Australia? survey, where over 2,500 grocery buyers provided insights into their grocery buying and mealtime habits as well as the underlying motivations.

Lenard’s found that the research provided data in regards to drivers in preparing weeknight meals.

“The respondents indicated that they’re time poor, with 76 percent using pre-prepared meals to save time, 81 percent wanted to provide a wider variety of meals than they presently do, but 38 percent indicated that they don’t want to buy all the ingredients required to prepare one-off meals and 36 percent said they lack the courage to try preparing new cuisines. In short, they want to serve their families something new and that they are proud of, but they don’t have the time so they need assistance to achieve this.”

Knowing the potential demand for a Breast Pastellé-style product the brand launched magazine advertising, point of sale material, video content in-store, online, and via Lenard’s Coupon Club electronic direct mail.

Within two months of the official national launch of the Breast Pastellé, sales had overshadowed popular Lenard’s favourites such as the Chicken Spring Roll, Cordon Bleu, and Parmigiana which have been part of the Lenard’s range for over two decades.

When asked what the most appealing aspect of the product is, Lewis said that the quality of the ingredients and flavours are what has made the Pastellé stand out.

“I think the modern flavours. We’ve put a lot of work into the flavours that went into these products- creamy smoked salmon, pumpkin and cashew and so forth. We did a lot of research in the market to find out what it was that consumers were looking for in restaurants and when dining at home, in magazines and so forth and bringing that home was probably what pushed it over the line and they look great, they look great in the window so it’s presentation as well.”

For information and entry details, click here.

The 2013 Food Magazine Awards are proudly brought to you by Platinum sponsor Heat and Control. Other sponsors include Flavour Makers, Janbak, HACCP Australia, Kerry Ingredients, Newly Weds Foods, Tronics, APPMA, Earlee Products and Kurz.

 

Recent food recalls: what’s off the shelf?

In the wake of Jindi's drastic food recalls, we look at which products have been taken off Aussie shelves recently.

Last week cheese manufacturer Jindi voluntarily recalled its products amid news two people had died and one lady miscarried following a listeria outbreak.

Here's a list of which products Jindi has pulled from the shelves.

While being a very stressful time for manufacturers – and of course the affected consumers – Australia hasn't experienced a large number of recalls in recent times.

In fact over the past four months (almost) only 12 brands have had to recall products, for various reasons.

These products are:

January 2013
• Jindi Cheese – potential microbial contamination (Listeria spp)
December 2012
• Jindi Cheese – microbial contamination (Listeria)
• Spice mix gift set – microbial contamination (Salmonella)
• Lenard’s Chicken products – foreign matter (wood and metal)
November 2012
• Bean Curd – microbial contamination
• White Wings Creamies biscuits – foreign matter contamination (plastic)
• Homebrand Choc Eclairs – Undeclared allergens (peanut and gluten)
• Spring Bay Seafoods – Mussels (Marine biotoxin contamination – PST)
October 2012
• B. – d. Farm Paris Creek Yoghurt – Microbial Contamination (E.coli)
• Four N Twenty Pies – foreign matter
• Mikes Meats Prager Ham – Microbial contamination (Listeria monocytogenes)
• Flannerys Almonds – Microbial Contamination (Salmonella)
• Woolworths Almonds – Microbial contamination (Salmonella)

For recalls from earlier months, click here.

But while they might not happen too often, it's a good idea for a food or beverage manufacturer to be completely prepared and aware of the best cause of action if such an event does occur.

According to Michael Lincoln (Liberty International Underwriters) and Martin Stone (HACCP Australia), being prepared means having in place documented systems and actual procedures.

Systems-wise, food businesses should have a robust food safety risk management program in place which needs to be constantly reviewed and tested to ensure it reflects the risk profile and activities of the business, Stone and Lincoln say. As a minimum, the program should specially consider each of the causal factors in recalls and those specific to the industry itself.

Read Managing food recalls: a manufacturer’s guide in full here.

 

Aussie packaging should take its place on world stage

A land of 23 million at the bottom of the planet, addressing packaging issues – what are the chances of global success? In all humility, the chances are good, relative to our resources.

I recently had the privilege of judging over 300 packaging entries from around the world at the World Packaging Conference in Singapore. To enter, each entry had to have already won a packaging award in their home country. They were the best of the best.

What were the different trends in packaging design in different world markets?

The quality of printing and paper from China and India were exceptional. From Western Europe and Brazil are back to basic materials, increased use of recycled materials, continuing light weighting and sustainable choices. Industrial scale designs that minimise waste and protect food materials were the highlights from India and Bangladesh.

Korea, Scandinavia and Japan provided unique technological innovations that allow the packaging to relate to customers through smartphones, Facebook or other smart technologies. The Americans are transitioning many products from rigid to flexible packaging and PVC to PET.

Central Africa has its own challenges of poverty and high population growth and developing packaging to fill basic life needs is perhaps the greatest challenge of all regions.

Next, pharmaceutical packaging focused on waste and dosage control, while electronic packaging from Korea epitomises the global environmental demands and the worldwide supply chain for mass market, fragile goods. Industrial packaging for the automotive and consumer electrical industries continues to be refined, based on minimising waste and for knock-down and reuse.

Packaging designs from around the world reflect the wealth, population growth and needs of the country of origin. In all areas of design, minimising waste in its many forms is seen as the most efficient way to improved, sustainable solutions.

Sustainable materials and design are no longer a novelty but the ticket to the game for which there is no price premium paid. Without these basics, your package will not be accepted by the consumer of the future.

Winners of World Star Packaging Awards are regarded with prestige in Asia, especially in China. Australia is part of the global packaging community and there’s no better place to have our innovation and skill on display than at the Australian Packaging Awards.

After seeing the quality of the winners at the recent Australian Packaging Awards, I suspect that if they had entered the world event, the majority would have rated highly. And I’m not on my own. There were 20 judges from around the world at the Australian awards and they recognised clear levels of innovation, as well as the practical use of materials in appropriate quantities, helping to meet some of the longest supply chains in Australia.

I would therefore encourage all packaging companies to put their best forward for industry awards and be recognised for the skills they possess.

Ralph Moyle, national president, Australian Institute of Packaging

 

Food mag awards in focus: Baked Goods and Confectionery

The Food Magazine awards will return in 2013 and with entries closing on 24 April, now's your chance to have your product recognised by industry peers!

In this preview of the annual awards, we're looking at another two categories: Baked Goods and Confectionery.

Baked Goods would be a suitable category for all products that use a dry heat cooking process, whether sweet or savoury. Products that can be entered in this category include cookies, bread, pastries, pies and quiches.

Confectionery is appropriate for all kinds of sweet snack foods on the Australian market, such as chocolates, lollypops, gummy candies and boiled sweets.

The entry process for these two categories is simple; all you need to do is submit details of your company and the product (name, website, address etc) as well as information on how the product is processed, it's significance in the market, any details on export opportunities and what measures were taken to ensure food safety.

Images also need to be provide upon submission.

In last year's Food Magazine awards, the Baked Goods crown went to Byron Bay Cookie Company for its Falwasser Gluten Free Rosemary Sea Salt Crispbread.

About the winner
Djacinta van der Meulen, marketing assistant at Byron Bay Cookie Company, said "The Falwasser is a great looking and tasty gourmet snack which hits the mark for ceoliacs and people wishing to consume a gluten-free diet. It is a great all round entry- Byron Bay Cookie Company is going from strength to strength."

The judges added that the company's move into savoury flavours has been a success.

"This company is well known for its quality sweet baked products so a venture into savoury has really tested their innovative ability. The gluten free wafers have been well thought through with great ingredients and packaging," they said.

When the company decided to venture into the savoury side of things, it aimed to provide the best quality, and so the crispbread had to be packed adequately to ensure it remains crisp.

Boasting a 12 month shelf life, the range of crispbreads is doubly wrapped using modified air packing; firstly shrink-wrapped into a plastic tray then flow-wrapped to guarantee its freshness. The quality assurance team retests the packaging on a regular basis and also test new material and make necessary adjustments if required. 

Van der Meulen said that successful marketing has been a matter of engaging with retailers.

"Having key distribution and retail partners and promoting well through those channels has been very much a contributing factor to the success of the brand."

Other flavours in the Falwasser Crispbreads range are cheese and onion, pepper and chive, sesame seed and natural as well as gluten free natural and the award winning gluten free rosemary and sea salt.

The Confectionery title in the 2012 Food Magazine awards went to Heilala Vanilla Limited for its Heilala Vanilla Syrup.

About the winner
Development of Heilala Vanilla's Syrup came as family owner-operators John Ross, daughter Jennifer Boggiss and husband Garth Boggiss saw the troubling breadth of very unnatural syrups on offer. 

"There are a number of Vanilla Syrups available; all contain either whole or partly artificial chemical vanilla flavours. Genuine and real Vanilla is one of life's great pleasures, so we wanted to create a product that could have a wide range of applications,  in coffee's, cocktails, over pancakes and ice cream", said Jennifer.

Garth Boggiss said that in order to come up with the syrup idea, Heilala Vanilla engaged food technology researches at Massey University in New Zealand to help develop the techniques of extraction and seed processing technology.

"There was actually a project that university students worked on for us so they looked in the market at what was available and they looked at a category that really needed a pure vanilla flavour added to it so it was actually a university project," Garth said.

The vanilla used by Heilala is farmed on Tonga using sustainable practices and the farm was originally set up as an aid project by John Ross who was originally a dairy farmer.

The challenges of farming have a direct impact on the end result of the vanilla syrup as Jennifer Boggiss points out. "We have two current challenges; firstly increasing our supply of Vanilla from Tonga, both from our plantation and other growers in Tonga. Vanilla is sensitive to climatic conditions and the last two seasons have been very wet.  As we grow our product range and markets – which now include retail, food service and food manufacturing in New Zealand, Australia and USA the supply of Vanilla becomes critical to our future growth.

"The second challenge is ensuring we are constantly innovative and researching new food products that are 100 percent pure vanilla. Heilala Vanilla is globally unique; being the only vanilla company that is 'plantation to pantry'," she said.

For information and entry details, click here.

The 2013 Food Magazine Awards are proudly brought to you by Platinum sponsor Heat and Control. Other sponsors include Flavour Makers, Janbak, HACCP Australia, Kerry Ingredients, Newly Weds Foods, Tronics, APPMA, Earlee Products and Kurz.

 

The beef barney: is another abattoir the answer?

Australia’s beef industry is one of the best in the world. High standard for cattle and for processing have led directly to a high reputation amongst other nations for the quality of its beef. But all is not well, writes Cole Latimer.

Australia’s beef industry is under attack.

Over the past 12 months the industry has come under fire for live exports and the standards of abattoirs in Israel and Indonesia, as shocking images of cattle being brutally slaughtered circled the nation.

The flames were fanned by environmental groups which stated that it is the beef cattle and meat processing industry’s responsibility to ensure the humane treatment of animals.

The response of the industry was to immediately distance itself, declaring that the common standards in Australia stood well above these other countries, whilst looking to address the live export issue, and the ever present supply chain problems.

But how?

With the construction of more abattoirs within Australia.

The meaty issues
A major issue with any industry in Australia has always been the tyranny of distance. The majority of beef cattle are grown in the most northern parts of Australia.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics within north-west Queensland there are approximately 3.4 million head of cattle alone, equating to almost 50 percent of Australian beef, with the Northern Territory and Western Australia’s Kimberley region making up a large part of the rest of what’s left.

However most of the abattoirs are located closer to major cities or the east coast of Queensland where ports are available, such as Rockhampton and Townsville.

John McVeigh, Queensland’s minister for agriculture, fisheries and forestry, explained to Food Magazine that “there are no abattoirs in the north-western region for producers, so their only option is to face the significantly high cattle transport costs to get them to a port or processor.

“The cost of transporting cattle is increasing due to animal welfare and driver fatigue regulations, rising fuel and labour costs, and insecurities about the live export market”.

Local cattle producer Rob Atkinson, says not only does moving live cattle cost a lot more in freight compared to boxed beef, it also “has animal welfare benefits, with a processing plant closer to where the animals are reared it means less time in the trucks for them as when we cart live cattle a long way we get what we call ‘shrinkage’, which is dehydration of the animals while they’re in the trucks.

“As a producer, because we’re paid by meat works on carcass weight, if there’s been shrinkage it’s less profitable,” Atkinson explained.

And there are even greater distances that Western Australia’s Kimberley region farmers moving their live cattle to finishing and processing sites face.

As the former Queensland minister for agriculture and food, Tim Mulherin, explained, “An enormous swathe of Australian cattle country currently isn’t served by local meat processing facilities – if you draw a line diagonally from just above Townsville to Perth [effectively splitting the nation in two], you would find no abattoirs north of this line.”

The supply game
Live export was seen as one of the few cost effective remedies to the logistics issue of transporting cattle to finishing and processing centres, as many of these farms are located closer to ports than major abattoirs.

But this has hit a stumbling block recently as the high Australian dollar cut the profits on export, and the government announcing reduced quotas for live cattle export and boxed beef, particularly into Indonesia.

The outrage from the Australian public over a Four Corners report detailing animal abuse in Indonesian abattoirs also dented the public’s opinion of our meat processing and abattoir industries.

So what’s the solution?

“Having a local abattoir would lower the cost of supply for graziers,” John McVeigh explained, while at the same time addressing issues surrounding live exports, transporting cattle and costs being passed down the line.

Going head to head
However the solution isn’t straight forward. In the race to solve the meat processing
problems a number of different groups came forward to operate an abattoir.

In Queensland’s north-west region a study analysed a number of potential with Cloncurry being identified as the most suitable for developing an abattoir.

However the relatively nearby town of Hughenden has argued the case for an abattoir in its town instead.

And while the two towns battle it out for support to even begin construction they collectively face much greater competition from a proposed ‘super abattoir’ in Darwin.

In November construction work began on a new $85 million abattoir near Darwin, which is slated to process between 120,000 and 200,000 head of cattle, some of which will come directly from the areas that the proposed Cloncurry and Hughenden abattoirs will source their cattle – threatening their potential viability.

According to Australian Agricultural Company Limited (AACo) general manager Stewart Cruden the site could be progressed through to commission as early as September this year, having already appointed both project management and construction companies for the meat works.

He said, “construction of the meat processing facility will create around 260 direct jobs and a further 560 indirect jobs for the region, injecting approximately $126 million a year into the local economy.”

But before anyone gets too excited, there’s another player in this race: a proposed $20 million Kimberley meat processing works.

The joint venture between Yeeda Pastoral Company and Kimberley Pastoral Investments, funded by a Singaporean equity fund, has plans to process around 55,000 head of cattle pear year by 2014.

The bones of it all
It can’t be denied that the public’s perception of live exports is hurting the sector’s image. This, combined with the logistical and transport challenges faces by producers, has caused calls for abattoirs in north-west Queensland, the Northern Territory, and northern Western Australia to intensify.

However the piecemeal way in which it has been approached, with many divergent views of where they should be located and the overlapping stock areas threatening the viability of the proposed abattoirs, isn’t productive.

The rush to ‘solve’ the issue will create more issues and potentially exhaust stock quicker than planned as the demand for more heads of cattle increases to fill facility quotas.

But at the end of the day an abattoir – any abattoir – closer to home can only be good news.

Image: ntnews.com.au, ciwf.org.uk and seekcommercial.com.au

 

Managing food recalls: a manufacturer’s guide

A product recall is a high impact event for any food business. It can be extremely costly and the reputational damage to a food business can be serious and long lasting if not managed correctly, report Michael Lincoln and Martin Stone.

What are the main causes for product recalls in Australia?
According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) there are approximately five recalls per month in Australia and this figure has been steady over a number of years.

Approximately one-third of recalls are due to microbiological issues, one-third from labelling issues and one-third caused by physical and chemical contamination.

Looking at these sectors individually sheds more light on the risks:

  • Microbiological issues: nearly half of micro-based recalls are due to the presence of listeria (47 percent), followed by salmonella (20 percent) and then E. coli (12 percent);
  • Labelling issues: 90 percent of labelling recalls are due to undeclared allergens including peanut, gluten, milk and egg
  • Physical contamination: foreign matter recalls commonly involve metal (37 percent), plastics (27 percent) and glass (18 percent).

The risks that cause these recalls are present in almost every food manufacturing business and it is clear that no-one is immune from the threat of a product recall. An objective of all food businesses must therefore be risk minimisation and preparedness.

What are the key factors involved in risk minimisation?
The short answer is documented systems and actual procedures. Systems-wise, food businesses should have a robust food safety risk management program in place which needs to be constantly reviewed and tested to ensure it reflects the risk profile and activities of the business. As a minimum, the program should specially consider each of the causal factors in recalls and those specific to the industry itself.

Importantly, the actual procedures that occur within the business need to be critically evaluated. Significant failures in the food industry resulting in a recall rarely come from a problem with the food safety manual, they result from actual procedures that occur in the facility. HACCP often reviews businesses with lovely documented systems but the actual procedures in the facility fall way short of best practise or even basic common sense. The key here is to spend more time on the production floor and actively hunt down those practises that bring risk into your business. Eliminate these and you will effectively reduce risk.

What about preparedness?
Conducting routine mock recalls is a great way to test your ability to respond to a real life situation. Again, the tip here is critical evaluation. Really test your system to see if it all holds together. A surprising number of recalls occur when a number of factors contribute negatively to the effectiveness of a recall. For example, “the coder was not working that day”, “the logistics manager was on holidays”, “the retention samples were lost”, “it was from a new supplier” are comments we hear all the time when investigating a recall.

Use some of these ‘curved ball’ factors when you conduct your mock recall and see what happens. Does the effectiveness of your product recall hinge on one person or procedure in your business? Is there a back-up plan in place?

On the financial side, recall insurance can make sound business sense. This product is appropriate for many businesses and forms a vital part of their preparedness programme.

What should a company do if it finds itself in a recall scenario?
Firstly, don’t panic. The key activities in the early part of a recall are containment / stock disposition and information gathering. Focusing on these and doing it well will minimise impact. Identifying potentially affected stock rapidly and halting logistics quickly can make the difference between a consumer recall and a trade withdrawal. Accurate information is vital to decision making – any assumptions in this process will reduce the effectiveness of the overall recall.

Accuracy in determining the problem significance is also critical and again, assumptions have no place. We have seen numerous examples of product recalls being triggered on the basis of potentially false positive results, for example. The opposite could also be true with potentially disastrous results for consumer safety. Whilst it is wise to always err on the side of consumer safety, there is nothing better than being able to make decisions based on sound, repeatable data.

Let me give an example of a friend who was recently making an assessment of laboratory capabilities for his company. A single sample was divided into four parts and sent to four individual laboratories. Three significantly different results were returned (only two of the four labs found the same results). One of the results could have triggered a product recall if taken on its own. The outcome here was that at least two of the results were likely wrong, maybe three, maybe all.  The implications in a product recall scenario are obvious.

Finally, the regulators including FSANZ and State Recall Co-ordinators are a huge resource for the food manufacturer when enacting a recall. The recall co-ordinators provide guidance and help the manufacturer to navigate their way through the formalities. Their advice is invaluable but note, the depth of their assistance is limited by the strength of the information provided by the manufacturer.

What costs are associated with recalls?
The cost of these incidents can be startling. We often see recall costs from retailers costing over $100,000, and it is not uncommon to see the total cost of a recall exceeding $500,000. Only recently we had a client with a turnover of less than $15m have a recall cost in excess of $1m.  A recall is rarely a cheap experience and can easily cause long term financial pain.

We are also seeing an increase in clients who contract manufacture to third parties being lumped with significant bills for loss of sales and extra expenses from the third parties following a recall. These types of bills can be multiples of what the client's costs are.

A food recall is a potentially costly and devastating event for a food business, with serious implications for consumer health. However, the risk and impact of a food recall can be significantly reduced through the use of critically evaluated systems, being appropriately prepared and taking the right to mitigate the effects if one of your products is pulled from the shelves.

 

Michael Lincoln is National Underwriting Manager, Crisis Management at Liberty International Underwriters www.liuaustralia.com.au

Martin Stone is director at HACCP Australia. www.haccp.com.au

For promotional purposes only. The information contained herein should not be considered legal advice or loss control or prevention advice. This information is intended to provide general information only. You should not act on the basis of information contained within this communication without first obtaining specific professional advice.  Insurance coverage is subject to the terms and conditions of the policies as issued. Whether or to what extent a particular loss is covered depends on the facts and circumstances of the loss and the terms and conditions of the policy as issued and the risks involved. This information is current as at 7 January 2013.

 

Food mag awards in focus: Ingredient Innovation & Health and Nutrition

The Food Magazine awards will return in 2013 and with entries closing on 24 April, now's your chance to have your product recognised by industry peers!

In this preview of the annual awards, we're looking at two categories: Ingredient Innovation as well as Health and Nurition.

All you need to do to be in the running for the Health and Nutrition title for 2013 is submit information on your company and its relevant product, detailing how the product is processed, its best features, how it's been marketed and basically, what makes it so great!

The Ingredient Innovation category also requires basic information about the product and its manufacturer, as well as details on what makes it unique in the market and what market need it is fulfilling.

In last year's Food Magazine awards, one company won both the Ingredient Innovation & Health and Nutrition categories.

CoYo Corporate took both these crowns with its CoYo Coconut Milk Yoghurt Natural product.

About the product
Henry and Sandra Gosling are the husband and wife team behind the CoYo dairy free, coconut yoghurt which has taken a known fruit with a high fat content and used it to now have nutritional benefits.

Sandra said the idea for their unique health conscious product was an accident. 

"This was a "silly idea" that came to mind at 3.00am on a Sunday morning," she explained.

"It had nothing to do with any specific reason as to change from dairy to coconut. Henry had managed a dairy factory that made yoghurt and after researching the coconut yoghurt market that morning at 3.15am he was surprised that no one other than a company in America was doing it.

"He was born in Fiji and thought he knew a lot about the coconut, in fact he knew very little."

Henry then set about researching the coconut and how it could be best utilised to create a product that was great tasting, with the right texture.

"The more he researched, he realised that it was an oil he was dealing with and obviously there may have been others that would have tried and then moved on. It was really in the end his stubbornness that drove him and he became obsessed with the whole concept of making yoghurt from coconut milk.

"After five months of daily experiments he finally cracked the right combination between coconut milk, starches, sweeteners and cultures," Sandra said.

Sandra became the taster as did her yoga class mates, who each Monday tried the next so-called successful batch. On 19 November 2009 one of the yoga ladies said, "My god this is "Heaven in a mouthful" and it was then that he knew he had made the grade.

Not only were Sandra's yoga friends enamoured with the product but the health food industry was too, however some slight alterations needed to be made to address the health and nutrition of the product.

"The response was at first guarded, considering that it was targeted to mainstream stores. Once the health-food stores heard about it they grabbed it. Feedback was important and slowly the ingredients were changed from the original recipe to provide what the public wanted. Out went the sugar and Xylitol replaced that and then completely vegan cultures were added."

The marketing for CoYo has been focussed on educating the public through in-store tastings by informed presenters. There is a lot of fat naturally in coconuts, so the marketing needed to focus on the health improvements that were made by the Goslings.

For information and entry details, click here.

The 2013 Food Magazine Awards are proudly brought to you by Platinum sponsor Heat and Control. Other sponsors include Flavour Makers, Janbak, HACCP Australia, Kerry Ingredients, Newly Weds Foods, Tronics, APPMA, Earlee Products and Kurz.

 

Can crops withstand more heat waves?

Australia broke its “hottest day” record this week, and heat waves are becoming more common in Australia. Heat waves are projected to increase in duration and intensity with global warming and climate change.

As recently as 2012, heat waves have caused corn and cotton crop failures in the United States and Europe.

More frequent heat waves with global warming may result in crop failures. Fortunately, there is a national and international effort by plant breeders and physiologists to develop new varieties of crops with heat tolerance.

In many cereal crops such as wheat, chickpea and rice, the reproductive stage is most sensitive to high temperatures, and it is important to ensure that physiological traits (such as pollen viability) for heat tolerance are targeted.

Cotton

Cotton is a major summer crop in Australia. At Narrabri, in NSW, Dr Nicola Cottee at CSIRO Plant Industry is collaborating with the University of Sydney to screen cotton cultivars at a gene, cell, leaf, plant and crop level. She is trying to identify contributors to high temperature tolerance.

I was surprised to see Dr Cottee had well-watered cotton plants growing in a heat chamber at 45˚C for over two weeks in good condition. In fact, cotton mainly uses water to cool its leaves to an optimal leaf temperature of 28˚C. This works almost like an evaporative cooler in an air-conditioner.

So if air temperatures are close to 28˚C, cotton can grow with little water, because it doesn’t need as much transpirational water to cool itself. In the USA, one cotton variety – VH260 (35˚C )– has a higher photosynthetic optimum than another – ST4554 (28˚C). This means there is an opportunity to develop cotton which can photosynthesise at higher temperatures.


Dr Cottee measuring leaf photosynthesis in field grown cotton. Daniel Tan

Chickpea

Chickpea is a major winter grain legume grown in rotation with cereal crops in the Australian grain belt. Heat waves are a serious threat to chickpea yield and grain quality.

Chickpea is a major source of protein for people living in the Indian Sub-Continent; it is like a meat substitute, as many Indians are vegetarians. One of my PhD students, Viola Devasirvatham, explored chickpea varieties with superior tolerance to high temperatures (above 35°C). She has used various approaches in the field and controlled environments in Narrabri, NSW and at the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in India.

Chickpea varieties planted under hot conditions: heat sensitive with no pods (left) and heat tolerant with pods (right). Daniel Tan

Heat stress during the reproductive stage was the main cause of yield loss in chickpea. High temperatures reduced pod set by reducing pollen viability and pollen production per flower. Pollen in the tolerant variety (ICCV92944) was viable at 35°C and at 40°C resulting in pod set. Pollen in the sensitive variety (ICC5912) was completely sterile at 35°C resulting in no pod set. Heat tolerant chickpea varieties have been identified, and these could maintain chickpea yields under heat wave conditions.

Rice

Worldwide, more than 3.5 billion people depend on rice for more than 20% of their daily calories. One-fifth of the world’s population – more than a billion people mostly living in Asia – depend on rice cultivation for their livelihoods.

Plant breeders at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are leading the push to develop heat tolerant rice varieties. They have also developed molecular markers for heat tolerance in rice.

There is even an international consortium trying to develop C4 rice, which can potentially increase rice yields by 50%, and improve heat tolerance and water-use efficiency.

Researchers at Macquarie University have found that an Australian wild rice species, Oryza meridionalis, native throughout northern Australia, had a higher growth rate and leaf photosynthesis than domestic rice, Oryza sativa, at 45°C.

Wheat

Wheat is Australia’s largest winter cereal crop by area and production. Effects of high temperature stress on yield and grain quality are often most important during the pollen development and early grain filling stages.

Researchers in South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia are working in a national effort to develop heat tolerant wheat.

At the University of Sydney, Professors Richard Trethowan, Jeff Amthor and I have begun looking at genetic variation for heat tolerance in wheat germplasm. This work is relevant to the northern grains region of Australia. We will use a range of germplasm already showing promise for high temperature tolerance. These lines will be tested in the field and in high temperature chambers and glasshouses.

Pic above: Field heating chambers for wheat heat tolerance testing at Narrabri, NSW. Daniel Tan

Daniel Tan receives funding from the Cotton and Grains Research and Development Corporations. He is President of Ag Institute Australia (NSW Division).

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

24 hours with Bondi Chai

Bondi Chai's director, Melissa Edyvean takes Food mag's Q&A and sheds some light on the joys and challenges of running your own food brand.

Name: Melissa Edyvean

Company name: Karmer Pty Ltd

Title: Director

What are your primary roles and responsibilities in your job? Give us a day in your working life.
Day-to-Day management including: financial management; budget control; product supply management; logistics management. Everything else not specifically allocated to an employee or outsourced!

What training/education did you need for your job?
A Doctorate from the University of Life! Management software; graphic design software; financial control management (minimal formal education, mostly on-the-job)

How did you get to where you are today? Give us a bullet point career path.

  • Various casual jobs – several years
  • Office assistance
  • PR/marketing director
  • Graphic designer/publisher
  • Various casual jobs – 1 year
  • Company director/co-owner of own PR/Marketing consultancy – 4 years
  • Creator/co-owner Bondi Chai Latte – 7 years

What tools and/or sofware do you use on a daily basis?

  • MYOB
  • Excel
  • Outlook
  • Word
  • Google Chrome
  • Logistics management software

What is the one thing that you are most proud of in your professional life?
Guiding and creating (where necessary) every facet of a business from start-up to national and international success which continues to exceed our business and lifestyle goals

Biggest daily challenge?
Keeping on top of "growth pains" – meeting demand spurts; keeping debtors to a minimum; tracking down 'missing' product deliveries!

Biggest career challenge?
Expanding my skills, thinking, 'comfort zone' and energy capacity to stay ahead of a rapidly growing business.

What is your biggest frustration in your job?
People who don't do what they say they will (sometimes even in writing) – eg pay an invoice, delivering product to a promised schedule or buying our product.

What is the biggest challenge facing your business?
Rapid expansion on too many fronts.

Is there anything else about your job you want Australia to know about?
Every minute, every ounce of energy and every dollar I commit to our business (and there's been lots) has been – and continues to be – returned in spades. In other words, it's all worth it.

If you'd like to be part of Food mag's Industry Map Q&A, click here.

To read another Industry Map Q&A, click here


 

Sustainable structure sees Chep move with the times

With a global network in 54 countries, more than 7,700 employees and over 75 sites in Australia alone, CHEP is a leading provider of pallet, container and crate pooling services. Here, Phillip Austin, president of CHEP Australia and NZ explains how its equipment is contributing to a more environmentally sustainable supply chain.

Australia’s supply chain infrastructure has been built around the CHEP pallet – every trailer in Australia is designed to be two CHEP pallets wide; every warehouse rack is precisely one CHEP pallet wide.  Globally, the company manages 237 million pallets, 600,000 bulk containers and 34.9 million reusable plastic containers. It goes without saying then, that CHEP plays an integral role in the manufacturing and logistics industries both here and abroad.

As the company that moves what we make – and with the environment front of mind for many of Australia’s manufacturers, retailers and consumers alike – CHEP’s business model is an inherently sustainable one. It’s based on a pooling system which essentially does away with one-way equipment use by customers.

Phillip Austin (pictured below) elaborates…

CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW CHEP’S POOLING SYSTEM WORKS AND WHAT MAKES IT A SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS MODEL?
CHEP issues a piece of equipment to a customer who has it on hire until they transfer it – usually with their goods – to a trading partner. Equipment moves this way through the supply chain until it is not needed by the last customer in the chain, then is returned to CHEP for conditioning and reissue.

CHEP’s equipment pooling model is sustainable for a number of reasons: reuse of assets, maximised transport efficiency and the responsible use of resources.

Indeed, an independent lifecycle analysis of CHEP’s returnable plastic crate system shows, daily, the system saves more than 175 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, more than 1.2 million litres of water and more than 20 tonnes of solid waste compared to a one-way corrugated cardboard system.

The scale and density of CHEP’s network allows equipment to travel shorter distances, thereby minimising transport-related carbon emissions. Also, CHEP has accreditation to stack pallets 20-high on trucks instead of the industry standard of 18, saving around seven percent of emissions per trip.

And finally, CHEP equipment is 100 percent recyclable. Plastic crates and pallets are recycled at the end of their lives and ground up for reuse, in things like planter pots. Timber cut-offs and timber from damaged pallets are reused at service centres, with about 85 percent of a pallet used to repair other pallets. What is not suitable for repair is mulched and used as garden compost.

WHAT ELSE DOES CHEP DO TO ENSURE IT’S A SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS MODEL?
In 2010 we established a Sustainability Program to further enhance the sustainability value of CHEP’s pooling system to Australian supply chains, including food and beverage manufacturers.

Our Sustainability Program focuses on four key areas: customer, environment, people and community, and has targets for these to 2015.

Highlights from this program, which benefit Australia’s food and beverage supply chain include:

  • Our unique pool of reusable, recyclable Multi-purpose Beverage Trays (pictured here) eliminating around 1,250 tonnes of one-way cardboard packaging waste each year.
  • CHEP’s accreditation from the National Transport Commission to stack empty pallets 20-high on trucks rather than 18-high, saving fuel and reducing carbon emissions
  • Our in-kind support of equipment to key food distribution charities including Foodbank and The Smith Family, equalling around $800,000 per year.

HOW ARE YOU WORKING WITH FOOD AND BEVERAGE MANUFACTURERS TO ENSURE SUSTAINABILITY, INDUSTRY-WIDE?
The new CHEP Retail Beverage Tray and Display Pallet will be released into the Australian market early this year. The benefits of this new system will be similar to the existing Multi-purpose Beverage Tray and Display Pallet, which, as mentioned above, has reduced the environmental impact of the customer’s beverage supply chain by eliminating around 1,250 tonnes of one-way cardboard packaging each year.

The Retail Beverage Tray and Display Pallet will be a one-touch packaging solution. Beverages are packed into the trays and onto the display pallets at the point of manufacture and travel through the supply chain to point of sale.

Additionally, in some cases, transport efficiencies may be gained through loading additional units per vehicle compared to traditional packaging.

Add to this CHEP’s returnable plastic crate system, which is used by the fresh produce industry to cool products and deliver them to retailers and which, when compared to a one-way corrugated cardboard system, saves more than 175 tonnes of greenhouse gases and more than 20 tonnes of solid waste a day.

We are also developing a new generation fresh produce crate in consultation with industry. It is an improved version of the existing fresh produce returnable plastic crate and is expected to be at least as environmentally sustainable as its predecessor. And, like the current generation crate, it will be fully recyclable at the end of its life.


 

Australia can’t feed the world but it can help

  

Food production in Australia is challenging. Why? Because our soils are largely ancient and infertile, and our climate is variable and frequently harsh. Many food producing regions are degraded through soil erosion, acidification and salinity.

But effective application of research, an innovative culture, and low government subsidies have made agriculture a major industry.

Australia currently produces enough food – mostly beef, wheat and dairy – to contribute to the diets of about 60 million people. Australia is a net exporter of food, and exports around 70 percent of its production.

 

Value by destination of Australian food exports in 2010-11. Upper chart shows all regions; lower chart shows countries within the key destination region of Asia. ABARES (2011)

 

Through food production and the overseas application of Australian agricultural research and expertise, we contribute to the diets of up to 400 million people, mainly in Asia. In addition, we earn over $30 billion annually from food exports.

Food security is an increasingly critical issue, with food prices that are both high and volatile. In October 2012, the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s cereal price index was over 2.5 times the value of its 2002-2004 baseline. By 2050, the value of the global food market is projected to increase by over 70 percent.

In this context, Australia should consider how best to make use of our agricultural expertise to strengthen our farming sector while contributing to regional and global food security.

Global market for food

The annual value of global food imports was almost $300 billion in 2007, and this is estimated to grow to over $750 billion by 2050. The greatest growth is expected in Asia, particularly in China.

Overall food consumption will also grow. Projections suggest that demand in China will account for 43 percent of the global increase in consumption, with India responsible for 13 percent and the rest of Asia for an additional 15 percent. The largest growth is likely to be for fruit and vegetables, followed by meat and cereals.

In our main food market China, meat imports will be particularly important. It is expected that as the Chinese population becomes more affluent, the demand for beef and other meats will grow rapidly. There is a significant opportunity for Australia to contribute to meeting the projected increase in global demand for food.

 

Projected changes in regional and global demand for food between 2007 and 2050. Lineman et al (2012)

 

The trade environment for food is an important element in strengthening food security. Only a small proportion of global food production is traded. In 2009, 2.5 billion tonnes of cereals were produced worldwide, but only 330 million tonnes or 13 percent was traded. The traded proportion for rice was less than four percent.

Food production in Australia

More than half of Australia’s land area is committed to agricultural activities such as livestock grazing, cropping and horticulture. The largest proportion (46 percent) of agricultural land is used for grazing of natural vegetation. However, most profits are derived from more intensive cropping and horticultural activities, especially through the use of irrigation.

Australia is a major food exporter and is globally seen as a reliable supplier of high quality food. We are the world’s second largest beef exporter and fourth largest wheat exporter. But as most food is not traded, we account for only a small part of total global production: 2.9 percent of beef and 3.4 percent of wheat.

Future increases in food production will be dependent on gains in productivity, which gives an indication of our capacity to harness human and physical resources to generate output growth. For example, we will need to better use limited, and in some cases diminishing, resources such as arable land and water.

 

Changes in total factor productivity in Australian broadacre agriculture from 1960 to 2008, compared to 1953 baseline Sheng et al. (2011)

 

The Australian agriculture sector has historically experienced relatively strong productivity growth, typically above the average productivity growth in the broader economy. Within the agriculture sector, productivity growth has been particularly high among large or broadacre cropping farms. However, after four decades of over two percent per year average growth in total factor productivity in broadacre agriculture, the last decade has seen a reversal of this trend.

Increasing our food production

We have some scope to increase food production by bringing more land into production and by increasing the intensity of farming. However, the amount of land suitable for agricultural production is limited and we are also strongly constrained by access to water and our sensitivity to climate and its variability.

Food production in Australia could be increased mainly through increases in cropping intensity and more efficient use of the available resources. It has been estimated that by 2050, the real value of Australian agrifood production could be almost 80 percent higher than in 2007, representing an average annual increase of 1.3 percent. The largest increases are expected in beef, wheat and dairy products.

Increases in food production will need to be managed carefully to avoid environmental and social disruption. For example, in Australia we currently produce wheat on around 13 million hectares of land with an average yield of only 1.5 tonnes per hectare. Analysis of our production potential has suggested that about 47 million hectares could be used for wheat production and average yields could grow to 4.4 tonnes per hectare. This suggests Australia could lift wheat production from just under 20 million tonnes to over 200 million tonnes.

However, such an increase would come at a great cost. It would involve massive land clearing, and directing all available land and all water available for irrigation towards wheat production and would reduce our production and export of other types of food. This is unlikely to be an effective way of contributing to food security.

A number of challenges will need to be addressed if we are to sustainably increase food production. These are among the factors being considered as part of the Australian government’s first ever National Food Plan.

Agricultural research and development

Australian research in agriculture has been highly successful and is well regarded internationally. The standard and quality of research in Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences and their sub-disciplines rated highly in the Excellence in Research for Australia assessment. This research is increasingly linked with research in Asia, South America and Africa.

However, agricultural research spending has been stagnating. Agricultural R&D intensity has fallen from a peak of five percent of the value of agricultural production in the 1970s, to just above three percent in 2007.

The decline in Australian broadacre agricultural productivity has been linked to this slowdown in research activity, together with the impacts of a changing climate. Support for research is important over long timescales: there is a lag effect from R&D investment to productivity gain, with the effects often continuing beyond 35 years after initial investment. Revitalising investments in agricultural R&D will be crucial to lifting our food output.

Workforce

Australian agriculture has an ageing workforce. From 1976 to 2001, the number of farmers aged in their 20s declined by over 60 percent. Many individuals are moving from rural Australia to larger regional centres or cities in search of greater work options, better health and education services. This in turn has dramatic effects on the regional skills profile, its labour pool, and the general health and vitality of rural and regional communities.

Also, there is considerable attrition among university students studying subjects in agriculture. This has implications for the future supply of researchers, scientists and professionals in the field of agriculture.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure plays a major role in moving commodities in an efficient and cost-effective manner, and access to adequate infrastructure will be critical in ensuring Australian agriculture remains competitive. Competition for road, rail and port infrastructure leads to difficulties and delays in transport and increases costs, particularly where goods are perishable or live animals are involved.

Optimising usage of our water resources will require substantial improvements in current irrigation schemes. These issues will be particularly important if we explore the opportunities for intensive agricultural production in northern Australia.

Conclusions

Australia is a stable producer of food in the world market, and food exports are important to our economy. However, the world population is already over seven billion and is projected to grow to over 9 billion by 2050. We produce enough food to contribute to the diets of less than one percent of those people, and less than two percent of people living in Asia.

Neither Australia nor any other country can directly act as the “food bowl” of the world or a large, populous region. Our most valuable assets to support food security in our region and the world are our knowledge of agricultural science, and the ingenuity our farmers have used to produce food on a continent fraught with environmental challenges. We are well placed to apply the outcomes of agricultural R&D in Australia and developing countries, across a range of commodities.

Australia may not be directly able to feed Asia or the world. But our know-how in food production has the potential to contribute to the diets of hundreds of millions of people around the globe.

Acknowledgements

We thank Dr Kim Ritman, Dr Brian Keating, and Professor Philip Pardey for comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the Office of the Chief Scientist’s Occasional Paper Series.

By Peter Langridge from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and Simon Prasad, Office of the Chief ScientistThe Conversation

 

 

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Nudie bares all about new beverage ranges

This month marks the 10th birthday for beverage manufacturer, nudie. To help celebrate, the Australian brand has released two new products, which are a slight deviation from the brand's core range. Brand 'governess' Rachel Clarke sat down with Food mag to share the details.

New ranges
"We've got two new ranges. We've got the v-nudie range which is 100 percent fruit – there's nothing added, it's all about fruit and vegies. For the first time this is a vegie range by nudie and there are three products: apple, cucumber and kiwifruit; carrot, apple, orange and ginger; and beetroot, pineapple, mint and more ['more' includes apple and carrot].

"So they're quite unique flavours, but flavours that we've been working on for a really long time that deliver on taste and are all about nudie's ethos of being nothing but fruit…with vegetables," says Clarke.

Not only is the v-nudie range nudie's first vegetable juice range, but it's also a 1L offering, a size the brand has never released before.

"It's a family offering, to help people get their two and five serves of fruit and vegies a day."

About two weeks after v-nudie was released, Wonder Winnie hit the shelves.

"Wonder Winnie is a completely different offering," says Clarke. "Again, it's made by nudie but it's not a nudie product because, as I said, nudie's all about fruit in a bottle.

"Wonder Winnie is a water-based, light quencher so it's made with water, it contains fruit juice, is naturally sweetened with Stevia which makes it a low calorie drink. So we're targeting different people. Wonder Winnie is all about thirst quenching and taste and being light."

The five flavours which make up this new range are cranberry and apple with aloe vera; grapefruit with gingko biloba; lemon and apple with guarana; cranberry, apple and lemon with echinacea; and cranberry and raspberry with rosehip.

Healthy undertones
It's not surprising that nudie, like many food and beverage brands in Australia, is reluctant to publish health claims on or about its products.

"It's really tricky to talk about health benefits on products. It's just not something we do and it's not something you can really do, to say 'this juice will make you healthy' … so we don't promote it [Wonder Winnie] as a health drink, but definitely the fact that it's low in calories is great for people who are watching their weight or on a diet," says Clarke.

She adds that it's nudie's commitment to steering clear of preservatives and unnatural additives which tells consumers it's a healthier option when compared to other beverages in the market.

"I think it's because they're 100 percent fruit juice. There's nothing added, no preservatives, it's just a natural fruit drink. So yes, I guess it is a healthier option than other beverages out there, but we don't really promote the healthiness of it too much. It's just more about fruit, fun and having a good time," she says.

The use of Stevia in the Wonder Winnie range allowed nudie to hold onto its commitment to natural ingredients, while still thinking outside the box and expanding its product range.

"For us it was really important that this would be a natural product, especially being made by nudie, it had to fit into our core 'nothing but fruit' message.

"So Stevia is a completely natural product. It's extracted from a plant and is 100 times sweeter than sugar, so you only need a really little bit to add to your product, and we use it because it's natural. We wouldn't be comfortable using anything in our juices or drinks that wasn't natural. The fact that we can add it and it delivers on taste and makes the drink low calorie is why we used it," says Clarke.

Not easy being nudie
Staying true to its 'nothing but fruit' mantra isn't an easy thing for nudie to do, says Clarke.

The brand, which also sources about 80 percent of its fruit from within Australia, is constantly educating its clients on how to best handle the product.

"A nudie product is not an easy product to make because we don't add any preservatives or additives, so it's a natural product in a bottle. It's difficult to make because you need to make sure that everything's completely clean, you're using the best quality fruit – because taste is super important – but then you've also got the other side of it, which is transport and storage. You can't just deliver it and have them let it sit out of the fridge for an hour or so. So it's a hard product to make and it's a hard product to distribute, transport and store."

Communication with clients and consumers is paramount, she adds. Nudie tries to urge its clients to order small numbers frequently, because its products have a short shelf life and, exluding Wonder Winnies, can't be stored for extended periods or without refrigeration.

"So it's about communicating to people and making it clear on the bottle that you can't leave this out of the fridge. Some people don't really get it. We still get people calling and saying they left a nudie drink in their car and it exploded all through the car, which is a bad thing, but it's also a good thing because then people realise that there's actually nothing added. If you leave your juice in the car and it's a 40 degree day and it makes it through to the end of the day, it kind of makes you wonder what's in it.

"So for a nudie to be that fragile – it's a really good thing."

 

Head to our Facebook page to see pics from Food mag's visit to nudie's HQ.

 

24 hours with Yummia

Yummia's founder, Mia McCarthy takes Food mag's Q&A and sheds some light on the joys and challenges of running your own food brand.

Name: Mia McCarthy

Company name: Yummia

Title: Sole trader

What are your primary roles and responsibilities in your job? Give us a day in your working life.
At the moment I run all aspects of the business. There is no typical day, although I do try and follow a general weekly plan in order to ensure everything gets done through the week. Although every day I have to exercise. This is really important for my sanity and I find I often do my best problem-solving and planning when sweating it out at the gym.

I have listed a few things that happen each week:

  • Manage supplies. Keeping on top of inventory and stock.
  • Investigate new business opportunities, following through with contacts and industry leads.
  • Processing orders, reviewing and invoicing all orders that are placed from customers.
  • Production days – we have a few production days per week, which involve busy days at the factory preparing and packing orders ready for dispatch. Because it's a fresh product we can't have stock sitting around for a long time, so we have to be really on top of orders.
  • Business planning – at least each week I sit down, and look at the business growth up until now, what worked and what did not.
  • Research, research, research. I'm always looking at other businesses and taking advice and reviewing how we can implement successful strategies into Yummia.
  • Paper work – on any given day there is hours of papers to be filed, bills to be paid, money to be collected!!
  • Accounting

What training/education did you need for your job?
Well lots I'm sure, but I have none! I started this company at 21 in my final year of university studying BA Dip ED (Primary), so all my training and education I have learnt through experience and on the field. A lot of trial and error! It is these real life experiences that have shaped the businesswoman I am today, and the one I want to be in the future, so lots more experiences to be had!

How did you get to where you are today? Give us a bullet point career path.

  • Graduated from High School in 2006.
  • Completed BA Dip ED (Primary Education) from Macquarie university in 2011.
  • I started Yummia in my final year of university study. After managing the two for a while, Yummia started to grow.

When I finished university I was able to invest in the business in a full time capacity. I initially made a personal investment of $10,000 into the business. I had saved this up through babysitting and working odd jobs throughout university. As the business has made more money we have re-invested this straight back into the business as well as a loan from my parents.

What tools and/or software do you use on a daily basis?
MYOB – this is by far the single most useful tool that my business uses. I received it as a birthday present because I could not afford it at the time and it's definitely been the best present I've ever received!

What is the one thing that you are most proud of in your professional life?
Yummia as a whole, being quite young I have not had many 'professional' experiences, but I am extremely proud that I have created and built this company from the ground up. I stated off as a uni student with an idea. I receive an extreme sense of pride knowing that Yummia has been created from nothing. That makes me really happy! Although we're still only just over a year old, so hopefully there will be many more happy moments to come!!

Biggest daily challenge?
Cash flow with accounts receivable, I'm slowly learning that people don't like to pay bills and it's a constant battle to chase payments and keep on top of outstanding accounts!

Maintaining sales in shops and positive customer relationships. When I had just a few small shops I was able to really nurture this growth and sales. I developed really strong relationships with all my customers, as we grow the personal connection gets diluted and we become just another product on shelves.

Biggest career challenge?
Logistics and delivery. This is something I constantly battle with, and getting product into shops quick enough to maximise shelf life. We are in the process of implementing a few procedures that will greatly increase shelf life for delivery time!

What is your biggest frustration in your job?
People not doing what they say they will do. I'm constantly following up with suppliers and contracts to ensure that deadlines are met and standards are maintained.

What is the biggest challenge facing your business?
All our products are quite new concepts to the breakfast market, we are not able to piggy-back off the category awareness that comes with other products. So educating the customers of our products.

Sustainable growth, meeting current demand and still having the capacity to greatly increase productivity.

Is there anything else about your job you want Australia to know about?
It's not as daunting as it looks. Compartmentalising different aspects of the business means the big picture does not overwhelm me or stop me from doing my job to the best of my abilities!

Click here to read more on Yummia's product range.

If you'd like to be part of Food mag's Industry Map Q&A, click here.

 

Micro-breweries and memories at Australia’s first pub brewery

Australia’s devotion to beer may have waned, but as the brewery manager at Australia’s oldest pub brewery says, our love of a cold ale isn’t ready to die just yet. Matt McDonald reports.

Right now, micro breweries are making an impact on the Australian beer market. As sales drop to a 50 year low and many drinkers give up beer all together, craft brewers have started to come into their own.

But this wasn’t always the case.

Back in the eighties hotel patrons had basically two choices. They could drink a Carlton beer or a Tooheys beer. Coopers was virtually unavailable in Sydney and micro-breweries didn’t exist.

Then in 1985 the license to Sydney’s Lord Nelson Hotel, Australia’s oldest continually licensed pub, was purchased by a consortium which included the current licensee, Blair Hayden.

Blair’s son Trystam Hayden is the current Brewery Manager at the hotel. “Back then it was a bit of a rough old wharfie’s pub, with tiles on the walls and carpet on the floor. So we restored it to its former glory and added a brewery,” he told Food Magazine.

By so doing, the owners were actually breaking new ground. It turns out that this was Australia’s first micro-brewery. And, given that it has been brewing ever since, it’s also our longest running pub brewery.

When asked why the pub decided to start brewing its own beer Hayden is clear. “We just wanted to brew natural ales; beer with a bit of flavour and something different to what was being offered by the two big breweries at the time.”

The owners wanted to attract drinkers by ignoring the established brewers and creating their own quality products. They hoped to build a name based on the flavours and aromas of their beers rather than ubiquity.

The Lord Nelson was the first. But as Hayden sees it, the growth in the popularity of craft beers has paralleled the general maturation of the Australian palate. Over the past 25 years, people have started to learn more and more about food and wine. “Beer was just a natural progression of this trend,” he added.

In the early days, The Lord Nelson’s ales were only available in the pub itself. Then about five ago, they decided to take the next step and start to distribute them to other pubs and restaurants. And two of their products, Three Sheets Pale Ale and Old Admiral Dark Ale are available in selected bottle shops.

As Hayden (pictured below) says, the demand was there. “There are people who passionately drink our beer. And they were prepared to hunt it out and find it.”

In deciding to make this move, the brewery was keen to keep its focus on quality. The feeling was that if the quality was there the market would respond.

“We were passionate about selling to the right people. We wanted to sell to the restaurants who understood it, the guys behind the bar who like drinking it….and also to the liquor stores who had an understanding of hand-made beers…natural ingredient, no added sugars, no preservatives.”

At first, the transition to external distribution raised a couple of difficulties. The Lord Nelson Hotel is a heritage listed building so the options for expanding production on site were extremely limited. As such, some of the brewing and all of the bottling operations have to be done off-site.

Of course, niche producers of any product face the challenge of finding suitable national distributors. Eventually, the Lord Nelson found a distributor in Samuel Smith & Son. The two parties were lucky enough to already have a relationship based on previous wine purchases by the pub.

Market observers might wonder if the current popularity of the niche producers can last. Or is it just a passing trend? Recently, another micro-brewery, Little World Beverages was purchased by the Japanese owned giant, Lion Nathan.

And Coca-Cola Amatil is expected to expand into the premium beer market when the restriction which prohibits it to sell, distribute or manufacture beer in Australia expires on 16 December, 2013. On that date, it will begin to operate through its $46m investment, the Australian Beer Company.

So it would seem pertinent to question the continued viability of micro breweries. Can niche brewers really hold off against the economies of scale that the big players bring to the table? Once the big guys get the message on quality will they take over again?

For his part, Hayden isn’t concerned by the threat. “That doesn’t affect us. We’re not fazed by them. We’ve never followed anything that anyone’s done, especially those big guys. And we never will. We’ll just keep doing what we think is right and what we think works for us. We’re not trying to take over the world. We’re just trying to get our beer into a few people’s mouths who might not have tried it before.”

He respects Little World and likes their beers. But, now that they have been sold, he is sceptical about whether they will really stay the same; he is not sure that their beer will really retain its quality.

“Little Creatures is a quality product…..but it’s gone now and it‘s in foreign hands…..people might say it won’t change but eventually things will change,” he said.

He said that the pub remains the central part of the business. Despite the off-site brewing and bottling, all the organisation’s employees still work on-site at the pub.

He is confident that a cold beer will always be part of the Australian life style and he is confident that demand for his ales will last into the future.

Looking round the Lord Nelson Hotel and sipping on a pint of Old Admiral Dark Ale, it’s hard to disagree with him.

 

Mixed reaction on new health labelling laws

The Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation has approved proposals to regulate food manufacturers' products nutrition content and health claims.

These new regulations will create stricter controls over on-pack health claims, including the need to provide scientific evidence to support claims and meet specific eligibility criteria including nutrition criteria.

The move came on the same day the Gillard Government announced a range of measurers to bolster the strength of Australia's manufacturing sector – promising the first round of the $236 million Industrial Transformation Research Program will focus on food research.

Meeting in Brisbane on Friday the various ministers considered the review report for the draft Standard for Nutrition, Health and Related Claims provided by the Board of Food Standards Australia New Zealand, and agreed to enact new laws early next year that will regulate the voluntary use of nutrition content and health claims, general level health claims, and high level health claims.

These changes will force manufacturers to have health claims such as 'calcium is good for strong bones' to be supported by either pre-approved or industry self substantiated, while the higher level health claims, such as 'calcium reduces the risk of osteoporosis' will require pre-approval by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

"All health claims will be required to be supported by scientific evidence and will only be permitted on foods that meet specific eligibility criteria, including nutrition criteria," the ministers said.

"The new Standard aims to ensure that consumers can have confidence that health claims are evidence based.
"When gazetted, food businesses will have three years to meet the requirements of the new Standard."

During this three year grace period FSANZ will carry out additional work such as the refining of the nutrient profiling scoring criteria, and the development and implementation of processes to maintain scientific currency of pre-approved food-health relationships.

Industry support

The new regulations have been supported by CHOICE, which stated that the decision, and the nutrient profiling score, is positive for consumers and helps to provide an objective benchmark for food healthiness.

“These nutritional criteria were agreed following extensive work by the independent regulator and provide a robust and objective approach to determining which food products are healthy enough overall to carry health marketing claims,” CHOICE spokesperson Ingrid Just said.

Following the announcement Uncle Toby's will move to ensure all of its 44 breakfast cereals meet the new criteria.

The manufacturer explained that it is part of the company's wider five year plan to reduce fats, sugar, and sodium in its products.

"Today, we are committing to consumers that by the end of January our entire range of UNCLE TOBYS cereals will meet the nutrition eligibility criteria of the new standard, meaning that every one of our cereals could carry a health claim,” Uncle Toby's nutrition manager Nilani Sritharan said.

Falling short

Despite agreeing with the move, CHOICE felt that the decision to allow food manufacturers to evaluate the evidence behind the health claims, as opposed to independent regulators, damages consumer confience.

“This is a major step backwards from an earlier proposal that would have required the independent regulator to scrutinise new claims, which was scuttled after an intense industry lobbying campaign,” Just said.

“When we look at what happened in Europe, where the European Food Safety Authority rejected 80% of the health claims put forward by food companies, we can see that the food industry has a very different idea of what constitutes scientific evidence to independent regulators."

The backlash

However the move by the government group has not been universally welcomed.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) was quick to slam the new regulations, claiming that it "will stifle innovation and industry competiveness".

"Today’s decision by the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation to impose additional regulation on nutrition content and health claims will result in unnecessary costs, discourage innovation and reduce trade competitiveness of the food processing sector," it said.

AFGC chief Gary Dawson decried the new regulations as regressive step, saying that "the Australian food processing industry needs policy reform that bolsters business competitiveness. Unfortunately the Commonwealth and the majority of members of the Forum on Food Regulation have ignored the advice of the AFGC and those states representing the bulk of the food manufacturing sector.

“The new Health Claims Standard is a disproportionate response to a non-issue that will discourage innovation in food products, increase regulatory costs, discourage investment and ultimately pose a competitive disadvantage for domestic manufacturers."

He went on to say that “this decision comes just two days after the Government announced its commitment to reduce red tape and review unnecessary regulation. It is also inconsistent with the broader policy emphasis on reshaping the manufacturing sector to take advantage of the Asian Century.

“In the current difficult trading environment any additional regulation or impost that adds to costs runs a high risk of pushing production and jobs offshore.

“Instead of streamlining approvals, the new standard will impose an onerous substantiation process that goes well beyond equivalent regulation in Europe or US.”

On the sidelines

While the main focus was on the new health and nutrition claims, the food minister also noted progress for labelling across a number of different areas.

Regarding front of pack labelling, the ministers said the collaborative process to develop a new rating system has progressed well.

They also noted that the review of the Policy Guideline on the Addition of Caffeine to Foods is underway, with public consultation on the Policy Guideline scheduled for March next year.

The agreement for an Australian standard on country of origin labelling to include all unpackaged meat products was welcomed by CHOICE.

“We know Australian consumers have a strong desire to know where their food is produced, and this is a welcome move to close one of the key country-of-origin loopholes,” Just stated.

Minister at the forum also sought to push a review on the proposed standard for low THC hemp as a food, with ministers to seek advice from the Standing Council on Police and Emergency Services.